The headline of this article needs a disclaimer. Not every person of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) shares the same political stance. Obviously, for example, the Progressive Movement leaders support the youth-led Ratsadon Movement and their demands.
Nonetheless, a significant percentage of Generation X stands against the pro-democracy protestors, enough to warrant the generalization needed to analyze the generation gap.
The context of the time
Social media is well familiar with the slogan “ฉันเกิดในรัชกาลที่ 9” (I was in the reign of King Rama 9). Many social media users display the slogan with pride and reverence, as so they should.
The demographics of those championing the slogan are the Baby Boomers and Generation X. Of course, there are those younger people who also proudly display the motto. Still, mostly it’s Generation X. After all, they are old enough to have experienced the “golden era” of King Rama 9 and young enough to be social media savvy.
In the business world, they are today’s middle to upper management, directors and CEOs, and leading entrepreneurs and influencers. In schools, they are the teachers and principals. In families, they are the parents. In politics, they are the MPs and ministers.
Why are they against the pro-democracy movement?
Politics is an expression of culture. For the Baby Boomers and Generation X’s entire existence, His Majesty King Rama 9 has been the nation’s heart and soul. To the point that the collective love and reverence for His Majesty defines the Thai national identity.
Even though the king has passed, his legacy endures.
However, the youth-led movement’s ongoing cultural revolution calls into question the monarchy’s status and legitimacy. In doing so, the institution and its members, long considered “untouchable,” have become the center of national debates. Along with the normalization of the discussion about the monarchy, there are also mockeries.
Many Generation X individuals are rational enough to understand that General Prayut Chan-o-cha is incompetent as a prime minister. They are well exposed to the world and liberal ideals to realize that the Thai constitution needs amending, if not a wholesale rewrite.
But they stop short at the mention of monarchy reforms and make a u-turn back to General Prayut, as no matter his failings, he’s accepted as the defender of the monarchy.
They then are against constitutional amendments for fear that it will lead to monarchy reforms.
Understanding the cultural psyche
Unto everything, there’s a context. Take a typical General X person.
Since at a young age, your parents teach you about the greatness of King Rama 9; his portrait hangs in your home. At school, you salute the flag and sing the national anthem, then attend classes where a primary lesson is the “duty of the good children,” the king’s portrait also hangs at your school.
Back at home, you sit with your parents to watch the 8PM Royal News.
At the movie theater, you stand for the royal anthem and see the images of His Majesty working with the people and helping those in need. You see the people’s images in the presence of the king, adoring faces, grateful tears, and loving smiles.
When you graduate, you receive your diploma, a stamp of approval of what you had been working for your entire life, the certificate that will lead you into work or adult life, from a member of the royal family.
At work, you meet the same people who have the same experience, in an office with His Majesty’s portrait hanging on the wall.
King Rama 9 has been the center of the Thai identity for your entire life. Only four years after his passing, many young people started to question the Thai monarchy’s role.
Not only that, but they also dare to make a mockery. So you stand against them.
Understanding the new cultural psyche
We are a collection of our experiences, personally and culturally. The leading figures of the youth-led movement are the product of their time.
They are all in their twenties, with human rights lawyer Anon Nampa, the only one above 30 years old. He’s 34. These are Millennials and Generation Z. They, too, were born in the reign of King Rama 9. But towards the end of the reign.
The family and school may give them the same lessons as the previous generations. The movie theaters may still play the royal anthem, but with different images of a different king.
However, modern technology has also opened up an entirely different world to them, a world that exists, quite literally, in the palm of their hands. Any parents and teachers can tell you, at home, at school, on holidays, or anywhere else, they stare at their smartphones.
Hence, a different time context and a different set of experiences. As such, their generational identity is different. Thus, they want Thailand’s national identity based on democratic ideals, not on kings and monarchy. Therefore, they want reforms.
They see people their age elsewhere, enjoying national progress and social evolution. They want the same. They see young people elsewhere, like Greta Thunberg and others, standing up and trying to make changes. They, too, want to stand up and make changes for their own country.
The problem is that change involves the role of the monarchy.
This generation conflict boils down to these two questions: One side asks why we can’t honestly discuss the monarchy? The other side questions why can’t you understand that you shouldn’t discuss the monarchy?
The keywords are “can” and “can’t,” resulting from two different visions of Thailand formed by two different sets of experiences.
The context of the time changes
Like it or not, it is a fact of evolution. In the future, there will be fewer Thais “born during the reign of King Rama 9,” and more who will be born into a different era.
Therefore, as a society, the emotional attachment will become less and less. Hence, change is inevitable.
But the fact of today still stands. Thailand’s political conflict is a generation gap between two different groups of people with two different sets of experience.
One side wants change to happen as soon as possible because they want to secure the future. The other side, however, is saying, not today. Not while we are still around, not while we are still in charge.
After all, they are today’s middle to upper management, directors and CEOs, and leading entrepreneurs and influencers. In schools, they are the teachers and principals. In families, they are the parents. In politics, they are the ministers.